Recently, Portland had an air quality scandal when the forest service discovered high levels of toxic materials (cadmium) in urban moss.The discovery was a bit by accident, as the forest service was merely testing to see if moss could serve as a bioindicator for air quality. It was an embarrassment to the DEQ, as they were found sleeping at the job. The test discovered that a glass factory in an urban neighborhood was emitting cadmium in the air, right next to a school. The release of the study opened up the door for all kinds of civic discussions of air quality. Even though Portland is one of the most environmentally proclaimed cities in the US, it has a history of industry that has not quite gone away, and current practices that are continuing as long as they are not caught.
Portland is also home to one of the largest Superfund sites in the US: the Portland Harbor. Legacies of lax policies have left this city with considerable environmental cleanup and social justice/environmental justice considerations to deal with. These kinds of issues don’t just go away on their own, they require concerned and engaged citizens to collaborate on equitable solutions and transitions.
more on the moss study here: http://www.fs.fed.us/pnw/research/moss/cadmium.shtml
more on Portalnd Harbor Coalition for citizens advocacy: http://www.portlandharborcag.info/